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Milton Ernest Hermitage

Milton Ernest seems to have had a hermitage, a place where a hermit lived. Hermits were solitary figures who spent their lives in prayer.

The hermitage is first mentioned in 1271 when the servant of the Prior of Cauldwell, a man named Simon of Langnoe, dropped dead there when about to milk a cow. This evidence suggests that the hermitage was part of Cauldwell Priory. Volume III of The Victoria County History for Bedfordshire, published in 1912, states: “In 1279 half a virgate of arable land and 6 rods of pasture, being part of this property, was held by the prior of John Erneys, Lord of the Manor of Milton Ernest or Harnesse for three masses for the souls of John’s ancestors”.

The Valor Ecclesiasticus was a survey of church lands made under King Henry VIII (1509-1547) prior to his dissolution of the religious houses and orders in England. Cauldwell Priory had thirty three shillings and fourpence issuing out of land called “le Armytage” in the occupation of Sir John Fitzieffrey. Buildings at the former Hermitage are mentioned in the will of William Lynford of 1575 [ABP/W1575/75].

Hermitage Close is mentioned in the Inclosure Award for Milton Ernest of 1804 and in a sale catalogue of 1909 [X65/69-70] when it formed part of West Manor Farm. A note written in 1963 [CRT130/MiltonErnest1] states: “The site was apparently moated and it is now being excavated by local people. We do not seem to have any deeds relating to the site. There is no building marked on our earliest maps (1803)”.

This latter excavation was reported on by Milton Ernest Women's Institute in their 1965 scrapbook [X351/9]. "The building was discovered about three years ago and excavation has proceeded each year since then ... from evidence brought to light during the excavation it would appear that the buildings were burnt down in the seventeenth century and the site was abandoned to become overgrown and almost invisible".

"The excavations have uncovered a stone building, probably with only one room, containing a stone hearth at one end. In front of this building is a cobbled courtyard with the remains of wattle and daub outhouses on at least two sides. These outhouses probably served as stables and byres. A large  part of the site inside the moat remains to be excavated and the surrounding fields also contain interesting features which may throw more light on the remains so far uncovered".

The Bedfordshire Historic Environment Record [HER] contains information on the county’s historic buildings and landscapes and summaries of each entry can now be found online as part of the Heritage Gateway website. A papal bull (a lead seal, bulla in Latin, attached to an order or instruction emanating from a pope) was found at 42 Radwell Road [HER 16031] close to West Manor Farmhouse and may have had a bearing on the hermitage. The document once attached to the seal has not survived but the seal was of Pope Clement V who reigned from 1305 to 1314, a period when the hermitage is known to have been in existence.